Monday, May 6, 2013

Patent: Lathe for Turning Billiard Balls

"The difficulty of turning Billiard Balls so to make them perfectly round and true, or in other words a sphere, has until lately been regarded as insuperable. Heretofore the universal method of turning balls was in a common lathe, with, for the most part, hand tools. This, as every mechanic knows, was a tedious process, as it was necessary to take the ball out of the lathe very frequently for readjustment; yet notwithstanding all this pains-taking it was almost impossible for the most skillful adept to produce a perfect sphere. This great mechanical difficulty has at length been overcome; for by a process patented by Messrs. Phelan and Collender, and invented by a gentleman in California, all kinds of spheres, from billiard balls to cannon balls, can be turned perfectly round with very little more trouble than placing the raw material in its place after the machine has been properly adjusted to size...."

- from "A New York Billiard Table Manufactory", A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860: Exhibiting the Origin and Growth of the Principal Mechanic Arts and Manufactures, from the Earliest Colonial Period to the Adoption of the Constitution, by John Leander Bishop, Vol. II, pg. 612, Philadelphia, 1864

The uncredited inventor was Luther A. Johnson, whose billiard inventions included:
Hand-turning of billiard balls was still a challenge decades later, as these articles attest:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bassford Timeline

Abraham Bassford of New York City was selling billiard tables through the classifieds as early as 1823, according to the New York Evening Post. He also seems to hold the earliest billiard cushion patent on record:

Patent Gum Elastic Billiard Cushions

July 20, 1831, Patent No. 6,631X. (The so-called "X patents" indicate patent records lost in the USPTO fire of 1836, so we can't see the original.) Click to enlarge his advertisement, and see how he described these cushions.

Bassford was listed a turner, an ivory turner, and a musician in the 1820s, and his occupation became "billiards" in the 1830's.

In the 1840's, Bassford had a foundry, and made billiard tables supported by gilded, cast iron eagles. Bassford also became a piano maker in the 1850s.


Antebellum Billiard Table Patents

Here is a list of early Billiard Table Patents (pre-Civil War), developed from the USPTO annual reports in the New York State Library. (Click patent number to link to online patent records)

Patent Title Inventor Location Issued
6,613X Cushions for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Jul 20, 1831
5,952 Cushion for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Dec. 5, 1848
14,290 Billiard-Table Cushion M. Phelen New York Feb 19, 1856
15,994 Billiard-Table Cushion W.B. Carpenter New York Oct 28, 1856
18,799 Billiard-Table Cushion J.M. Brunswick Cincinnati Dec. 8, 1857
18,805 Billiard-Table Cushion H.W. Collender New York Dec. 8, 1857
18,841 Billiard-Table Cushion L. Decker Bergen, NJ Dec 15, 1857
19,074 Cushion for Billiard-Tables H.W. Collender New York Jan 12, 1858
19,101 Cushion for Billiard-Tables M. Phelen New York Jan 12, 1858
19,546 Billiard-Table Top or Bed C. Croley Cincinnati Mar. 9, 1858
19,755 Folding Billiard-Table C. Croley Cincinnati Mar 30, 1858
20,156 Billiard-Table Cushion G. W. Holman New York May 4, 1858
20,548 Pocket-Supporter for Billiard-Tables J. E. Came Boston Jun 15, 1858
21,159 Billiard-Cushion W. K. Winant Brooklyn Aug 10, 1858
22,001 Billiard-Table D. D. Winant New York Nov. 2, 1858
22,020 Cushions for Billiard-Tables L. Decker Bergen, NJ Nov. 9, 1858
22,064 Billiard-Table H.W. Collender New York Nov 16, 1858
22,263 Billiard-Table Cushion J. E. Came Boston Dec. 7, 1858
23,340 Cushion for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Mar 29, 1859
23,341 Cushion-Rail for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Mar 29, 1859
23,458 Billiard-Table F. Fedderke New York Apr. 5, 1859
23,350 Improvement in Billiard-Table Cushions H.W. Collender New York Mar 29, 1859
24,279 Pocket-Handle for Billiard-Tables J.M. Brunswick Cincinnati Jun. 7, 1859
26,128 Billiard-Table Cushion G. D. Sharp New York Nov 15, 1859

List excludes Reissues. While there is at least one billiard table maker in Upstate New York during this time (Jeramiah Staats of Buffalo), all the NY patents were coming from New York City.

American Eagle Cast Iron Billiard Table

New York Evening Post, June 6, 1835 advertisement
To Southerners - The first cast iron Billiard Table ever in America, may be seen at the splendid Billiard Saloon, 218 Broadway, rear stairs. The broad rails are cushion eagles, entirely gilt, being at once emblematic of our country, the eagle her glory, the iron her strength, and the gold her riches. Let some Southerner treat his tour with this rich gem. Seven other tables in the room, all for sale, and in full operation every day and evening. Cloths, balls, cues, maces and every other article in the trade for sale as usual.
Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, various 1836 ads
Something New. - The American Eagle Iron Billiard Tables, with polished slate stone beds and patent gum elastic cushions. Southerners and the public are invited to try these very superior tables... 12 tables up for trial... ABM BASSFORD

Abraham Bassford, 1847, patent no. 5,952, CUSHION FOR BILLIARD TABLES

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Old Time Billiards

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Jan. 30, 1896
The Old Time Billiards
A Gray Headed Player Grows Reminiscent
A reporter of this paper dropped into one of our leading billiard parlors yesterday afternoon. As he gave a casual glance around the room his eyes chanced to rest upon a gray-haired man, who seemed to be taking a great interest in watching two well-known amateurs manipulate the ivories.
"This isn't anything like the way the game used to be played in my time--I mean when my hand was firm and steady, for I now begin to feel the approach of the end. In the old days, it was between the years '55 and '70 that I did the most of my playing--we need to play carroms on a six pocket 6x12 table with wooden beds and oval hard rubber cushions. It was before the marble or slate beds had been introduced in America. ... Finally, about the year '60 the pockets of the tables were reduced from six to four and the size of the tables to 5 1-2 by 11 with slate beds. In the natural course of events the regulation carrom table, a 5 by 10 with no pockets, was introduced.
At that time there were no clubs and few if any enthusiasts had tables of their own. Nowadays, nearly all the well-to-do citizens have private tables at their homes and all the club houses are furnished with them."

Found on, a great resource for searching historic upstate NY newspapers. This link is the page with the article.